B&N Week 100: Become A Better Creator- Know Your Numbers

| November 20, 2012

What? Another Tuesday is upon us? Tempus fugits! [Why doesn’t anyone speak Latin anymore? It sounds fun. Maybe I should have become a Catholic priest…] We’ve got the end of the year coming up, with Thanksgiving being this week! Time for looking back and thinking of all the things we’re thankful for, yes? Yes.

That’s for later, though. Right now, it’s time to get into more Bolts & Nuts. We’re still talking about becoming a better creator, and in doing that, you have to understand your numbers.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not a math-head. My wife and my ex-wife? They’re math-heads. Whenever someone starts talking numbers, my eyes kinda glaze over, and I feel like I’m in a Charlie Brown special: the unseen adult going, “Whaaa wa wawawa…” Numbers bore me, and I’m sure they bore a lot of you.

We’ve all got to fight it, though. While theory is fun and exciting, putting out a comic has to be practical. We have to put theory into use, and the only real way to do that is by going over the numbers.

All the numbers about the costs of creating a comic? While they’re nice, they aren’t accurate. They will never be accurate, either, because every single project is different. Every single deal is different, and every single creator is different. The numbers you’ll find out there are ballpark figures. Use them [and inflate them] to create a budget, and then start working from there.

The very worst thing you can do, besides running out of money, is not understanding the cost of bringing a comic from your head to the shelves. [Well, there’s also the whole “not trying” thing, but if you’ve been reading this long, then you aren’t a damned dirty quitter, so we won’t even talk about that.] I’ve said it time and again: making comics is hard, and part of that difficulty is the expense.

There are five distinct parts of bringing a comic to market that you have to put together and understand intimately:

-Cost of creation

-Cost of marketing

-Cost of printing

-Cost of distribution

-Sales price

Cost of creation is easy: it’s what you pay the creative team to breathe life into your vision. You can find those numbers [and inflate them] anywhere. They’re all over the place, and it’s what most creators pay attention to most, because the bulk of you aren’t going to get past this stage. (Steven!) What? I’ve never lied to you, and I never will. It’s a fact of life. And it isn’t because you’re a damned dirty quitter, either. It’s because you’ve failed to take the other two parts into account, and you ran out of money.

The cost of marketing is a big one. The real secret of marketing is trying to spend the least amount of money possible while gaining the maximum amount of exposure. Sure, everyone is on Twitter and Facebook and trying to do things to gain attention that way, but if you only have fifty followers on Twitter, with half of those being spambots, and you have only a very small circle of family and friends on Facebook, how are you going to branch out and turn that small group into a force that will let the world know that you have a comic coming out?

Marketing is one half delivery method, and one half being clever about the message being delivered. The delivery method will get you noticed, and the cleverness is what turns that notice into a sale. You have to have  both if you want to stand out among the throng of creators clamoring for the attention of the same pool of readers. In comics, the signal to noise ratio is low. Read Newsarama. Read iFanboy. Read The Beat. Now, see who gets their press releases posted, and then quadruple if not quintuple the amount of them that get sent in. [And really, that’s a low estimate.]

The printing cost is another thing you have to be intimately knowledgeable about. The first thing you have to think about is whether or not you’re going to do print-on-demand, or if you’re going to do an offset print run. Two things: print-on-demand will cause your sales price to go up some, if you’re trying to make any money; offset will lower your unit cost, but if you don’t have a good idea for sell-through, you could be sitting on stock for years.

Both methods will give you choices on paper: paper weight, brightness, gloss, and the like. Offset printing will give you more choices, unless you have a kickass print-on-demand printer like ICGeeks [they’ll also give you a damned good price on the printing and shipping, too!].

Another thing to remember: wrapped up in that printing cost will also be the shipping cost. If you don’t have a distributor [like Diamond], then you’ll have the books shipped either to you, or to your site [like a convention hall]. That will be in the printing cost. Not in the quote, but if you want to get the books, they’ll have to be shipped to you. When the final amount is calculated, the shipping cost will be in there, too.

Distribution!

I’ll tell you something: lots of creators rail against Diamond. Too hard to get in, too hard to stay in, they don’t do anything for you, everything costs.

I’ve never lied to you, and I never will. (You said that already.) Yes, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to like what I have to say. (Just spit it…wait. You’re about to say it’s my fault for trying to peddle crap, aren’t you?) Well…yes.

Diamond is in the business of making money. That’s what every business is for. Business is there for making money. You go to work every day, right? Do you work for free? Does the business you work for provide their services for free? Exactly. Diamond is here to make money. They make most of their money from Marvel/DC. Everything else they do is because the money made from Marvel/DC allows it. They’re able to distribute indie books—almost at a loss—because of Marvel/DC [and their own prices of selling advertising space for your book]. What does this have to do with your book?

If Diamond doesn’t accept it, that means they think they cannot sell it. In selling it, they’re making money off it. If they can’t make money, why would they do it? The kindness of their hearts? I don’t think so.

[I know it’s a tangent, but go with it.] Basically, you have to raise the quality of your books, and/or you have to stop being derivative of something else. If they passed, it was because of one of those two things: it was crap [remember, quality is job one!], or it was derivative [yet another take on Sherlock Holmes, only this time, he’s a zombie!]. No go. [Tangent over.]

Now, distribution has a cost. You’re basically selling your book to the distributor at a steep discount, so they can in turn sell your book to the retailer at a discount, who then sells the book to the public at retail price. Money flows from the reader to the retailer, from the retailer to the distributor, and from the distributor to you.

With all of that being said, what are you going to sell your book for? You have to sell it at a decent, competing price. With print-on-demand, for a color book with a low print run, you’d have to jack the price up in order to see any money on your return. However, when you jack up the price, you’re also turning readers away. I’m sorry, but I’m not paying $5-$6 for a 22 page story. That’s not going to happen, and there are lots of readers who feel that way. You have to know what price you’re going to sell your book at.

That’s a lot of things to know, right? Well, there’s one more piece of the puzzle, and that’s making a profit. Add together all of the costs [creation, marketing, printing, distribution], and that’s the number you’re going to have to beat in sales of your book. So, you take your retail price, and multiply it by a number that will either break even or come above that total.

It isn’t as easy as it looks.

Want to be a better creator? Know your numbers intimately. Know them for every project, because every project is going to be different. You should start working it out as soon as possible, and keep refining until you have a concrete number. It’s a lot of work, but no one ever said it was going to be easy.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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